Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Arpita Singh (Beauty Expert)  on 26th Oct 2020

Best peeling solution for your skin - AHA vs BHA or both

Vitamin C with Hyaluronic Acid

Sometimes, your skin is not able to shed the dead cells properly. Prolonged exposure to the sun or humid climate can be some of the external factors that interrupt your skin's normal functioning.

Another reason, you can be a little negligent towards your skincare routine and put meager efforts on your cleaning and moisturizing.

Age can be a significant factor too, and one you have no control over.

A lot more reasons stand in line to be told. But let's stop here. The result is the same. Your skin fails to exfoliate (lose the dead skin cells) and become dull & saggy.

Peeling solutions can be a boon to your dull and uneven complexion. And talking about chemical peels, the acids that come running to our minds are the AHAs and BHAs. 

What are the AHAs and BHAs? 

You often find them boldly mentioned in the ingredient list of your peeling solutions. Let us know more about them first. 

Alpha hydroxy acids (a.k.a AHAs) 

AHA is water-soluble in nature and mostly derived from plants and animals. They act as magical mops to the surface of the skin, sloughing off the dead skin cells and allowing the new, healthy cells to take their place.

Some of the most commonly used AHAs in the skincare industry are: 

Alpha hydroxy acidsObtained fromPrimary functions
Glycolic acidA widely known plant, sugarcane
Significant exfoliation, providing an all-round treatment
Antimicrobial in nature, helping to prevent acne and breakouts
Lactic acidLactose in milkSignificant exfoliation, anti-aging effects.
Mildest of all AHAs
Tartaric acidGrape extractsAlleviating the signs of sun damage and acne.
Citric acidCitrus fruits such as lemons, orangesNeutralizes the pH levels of the skin, evens out the rough patches formed.
It also provides UV protection.
Malic acidApple acids

A subsidiary ingredient, allowing the active components to perform better.
Mandelic acidBitter almond extractsImproves skin texture, lessens pore size.
A subsidiary ingredient, allowing the active components to perform better.

Glycolic acid and lactic acid are the most researched upon AHAs, is the reason they are extensively used as active ingredients in many chemical peels.

Follow these two guides for more information on these direct acids:
Benefits of Glycolic Acid
Benefits of Lactic Acid

The other AHAs mostly serve as subsidiary ingredients in the exfoliating formulations and help maintain suitable conditions for the active ones to perform efficiently. 

Beta hydroxy acids (a.k.a BHAs) 

They are oil-soluble. Salicylic acid, derived from a willow tree's bark, is the most common BHA used in the peeling solutions.

The BHAs can penetrate deep into the pores and carry out the process of exfoliation. There is much research on the benefits of Salicylic acid for the skin.

It is a potent peeling active which promotes cell turnover and
They annihilate the microbes resting beneath the skin and oust the dead skin cells and excess sebum (oils produced by the sebaceous glands) from the pores.

To know more about Salicylic acid, read through the Salicylic acid guide.  

Salicylic Acid 2% Face Serum
Salicylic Acid 2% Face Serum
Salicylic Acid 2% Face Serum
Salicylic Acid 2% Face Serum

Salicylic Acid 2% Face Serum

₹ 545

When to use: PM

Frequency: Alternate days

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AHA Vs. BHA - Which acid is most suitable? 

AHA and BHA are both clinically proven active ingredients in skincare that promote cell turnover by exfoliating younger-looking skin. However, AHAs provide surface exfoliation and remove dead cells, whereas BHA helps in clearing clogged pores and exfoliating from inside.

Both have tremendous benefits for skin that you cannot ignore. 

When should you go for an AHA? 

  • If you are looking for a chemical peel that will help you sort out your wrinkles, full lines, and the surface-level skin concerns, go for an AHA.
  • If you have dry (and sun-damaged) skin and wish to turn it supple, lactic acid peel is your best chance.
  • Having age spots, melasma (brown patches formed on the skin), or acne scars to deal with, an AHA can treat some of these skin irregularities well. 

Sensitive Skin’s Favourite Direct Acid 

Lactic Acid is the mildest of all AHAs. Also, the molecular size of lactic acid is larger than that of the glycolic acid, and hence, it cannot penetrate deep into the skin. As a result, it causes less irritation. 

When should you go for a BHA? 

  • If you have oily skin and need to flush out the excess sebum out of your pores, get yourself a BHA (salicylic acid) peel. 
  • Having acne-prone skin, using a BHA can be hugely beneficial. 
  • Having clogged pores, and suffering from blackheads and whiteheads, get started with the BHA treatment already. 

Can you use the two acids (AHA and BHA) together? 

For an answer, yes!

You can incorporate the two exfoliating acids in your skincare routine, and use their combination to reap the benefits of both.

There are two possible ways of doing it. You can either use the AHA and BHA in two different products or get hold of their combined formulation in a single product.

While using AHA and BHA, make sure you do not use higher concentration than recommended, as it may cause redness and irritation.  

AHA and BHA peeling solution

30% AHA and 2% BHA are considered a powerful combo for a weekend peeling solution. Know more about this peeling solution 

When should you opt for the combination of AHA and BHA?

  • If your skin has a coarse and weathered texture, with relevant signs of sun damage and acne appearing regularly, you need a deep-end exfoliation
  • Aging issues such as full lines and wrinkles, a drooping complexion, and frequent breakouts require a robust peeling solution. 

If you are new to the world of skincare acids and just beginning with the peels, start with 2% Salicylic Acid or 10% Lactic Acid alone.

As the potent mix of the two acids is recommended for an experienced user of chemical exfoliation. Also, choosing the right formulation is equally essential.

A balanced formulation with optimum concentration of both acids and some soothing actives such as Aloe vera and other extracts can remove usual irritation associated with peeling. 

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What benefits can you get from using the combination of AHA and BHA?
- And are there any side effects? 

When you consider the application of both AHA and BHA in your everyday routine, you allow the entry of two active ingredients into your skin. An AHA, glycolic acid (mostly preferred), and a BHA, salicylic acid.

Each acid has its own set of features and contributes accordingly. They perform their respective functions, glycolic acid breaking through the layers of dead skin cells formed on the surface of your skin and munching them away. It also promotes the relieving of dark spots, scars, etc.

While the salicylic acid helps remove the congestion of pores, clearing the blackheads and whiteheads, reducing inflammation felt in some of the skin diseases, and encouraging the formation of collagen fibers. As mentioned in the earlier part of the blog. 

Associated side effects: 

There are no severe side effects of using AHA and BHA together. They are safe till the time you are using the recommended concentration (AHA < 30-40% and BHA < 2%).

Depending on the strength of the two active ingredients used, the peeling solutions can erode the microscopic pieces of cells or the whole outer layer. In any case, exposed new cells can potentially increase the sensitivity of your skin to the sun and cause dryness.

So, you need to invest in a good sunscreen and moisturizer to protect newly revealed skin.

You might have to undergo the purging phase. The areas of pigmentation can grow darker, and the breakouts may randomly increase.

Flaking and peeling occur, as you could expect from any chemical peel. But now, as you have doubled the dose (using two active acidic ingredients), the irritation may perk up a little.

Choosing the right formulation is vital while dealing with strong acids to minimize these temporary side effects.
However, the purge ends within a maximum of 4 to 6 weeks. 


Do not apply direct acid on hypersensitive skin or compromised skin. Always apply broad-spectrum sunscreen while using a peeling solution

How can you use the two acids (AHA and BHA) together? 

1. AHA and BHA in two different products 

  • Now, you can either apply both the acids together. But this will cause a severe amount of irritation. So, proceed with it only if you can withstand the odd cones (irritation and dryness) that come along.
  • You can also apply the BHA (salicylic acid) in the morning followed by a broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or more and the AHA (glycolic acid) in the evening. Give some time in between the applications of the two. 
  • If you happen to have sensitive skin, use the two acids on alternate days. Apply AHA one day, and BHA the other. This process will effectively reduce irritation.

2. AHA and BHA in a single product 

If constantly managing the time balance between your AHA and BHA irritates you. You wish to use a single product that contains both, then consider using the Minimalist's Peeling solution.

There are fewer formulations with this combo as it is challenging to balance the two acids, but Minimalist has decoded the secret.

It is the AHA (25% blend of Glycolic acid, Lactic acid and Mandelic acid) + BHA (2% Salicylic acid) + PHA (5% Gluconolactone) Weekend Exfoliating Facial, maintained at a pH of 3.4-3.8. It also contains the aloe vera juice and pepper berry extract, which helps to soften the skin texture and clams any irritation associated with direct acids. 

AHA PHA BHA 32% Face Peel
AHA PHA BHA 32% Face Peel
AHA PHA BHA 32% Face Peel
AHA PHA BHA 32% Face Peel

AHA PHA BHA 32% Face Peel

₹ 689

When to use: PM

Frequency: Once in 2 weeks

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The Bottom Line

Direct Acids (AHAs or BHAs) are BFF of your skin, whether used alone or in combination. If you are new to direct acids, start with low concentration, and one at a time, you can gradually move your way up.

Use a well-formulated peeling solution to avoid side effects and irritation associated and reap maximum benefits.

Over the counter, skincare always takes time, so use a peeling solution for at least 8-10 weeks for visible results. Hydrate your skin and protect from the sun to sustain the results.